combination of prosperity, optimism, exotic
materials and fine craftsmanship produced some
spectacular and exciting architecture.
For big business, Art Deco was ideal for expressing
corporate wealth and dominance. Banks used the
style to convey security. Hollywood used it to
define the good life.
But soon, the good life proffered by Hollywood
would be just that; the stuff of dreams.
When the stock market crash brought down the
curtain in 1929, it took the first phase of the
Art Deco era with it. In Manhattan, the Empire
State Building was completed in 1931 and for some
time after there was little construction of any
sole exception of Rockefeller Center.
For better or worse, in those days it took time for
Wall Street's problems to fully affect other parts
of the world. So, in far away places like
Australia, Art Deco buildings were built into the
1940s. But in the birthplace of the skyscraper, the
One consequence of the Depression was the emergence
of a more austere architectural style, referred to
on this site as Streamline Moderne. Why not just
say Art Deco? Because nearly everything about the
Streamline Moderne was different
even a reaction to Art Deco.
If Art Deco skyscrapers could be thought of as
"vertical", Streamline Moderne buildings often
embraced horizontal massing (sometimes claimed to
be aerodynamic!) The ornament in a streamlined
building, if any, was typically modest, whereas
with Art Deco, the sky was the limit. While Art
Deco buildings dazzled with intricate details and
sharp angles, streamlining featured clean surfaces
and curves. In a few places, the two styles were
combined but in the simplest terms, Art Deco was
born before the financial collapse and Streamline
to say that the Streamline Moderne couldn't produce
delightful results, and with its graceful curves,
streamlining translated beautifully into thousands
of objects that are still treasured.
I should point out that the Art Deco houses on this
site are, with one or two exceptions, really
Streamline Moderne. Although classic Art Deco
translated nicely into houses, they are so few in
number that any collection of Art Deco homes really
has to include streamlined examples.
There is no way to measure, but my impression is
that Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings
today then they were in their own time. Of the two,
the Streamline Moderne had a much longer run. It
survived the war and went on to be used for a new
generation of schools, factories, grocery stores
and gas stations.
remarked in an earlier version of this essay that I
often wonder how things might look today, had there
been no Depression or a second World War. But this
sort of guessing is a fool's errand especially when
so much from the period remains,
to be seen, preserved and enjoyed.
are times when events combine to hasten the march
of progress. In the early part of the twentieth
century, one architectural style, now called Art
Deco, sought a new direction
to synchronize itself with the new age.
This break from tradition was far from absolute and
some Art Deco buildings were notable, mostly for
their ornament; more repackaging than innovation.